BATH — Bath Iron Works delivered machines designed to make nasal swabs used for COVID-19 testing to Guilford-based Puritan Medical Group earlier this week.

BIW is manufacturing 30 of the specialized machines in order to help Puritan boost its production of swabs from 20 million per month to 40 million. There is a nationwide shortage of COVID-19 tests, and companies have been trying to catch up to ensure widespread testing is available to help combat the spread of the disease, which is caused by coronavirus.

“BIW is pleased to complete the first delivery of these machines which will enable Puritan to expand the important work it is doing to help respond to this pandemic,” said BIW President Dirk Lesko. “Our employees’ skill, combined with a well-developed supply chain, enable us to meet this critical need on an unusually short timetable.”

Bath Iron Works delivered the first six machines out of a total order of 30 designed to make nasal swabs used for COVID-19 testing. The company is planning to have all of the machines built and delivered by mid-July. Photo courtesy of David Hench

Due to the immediate need for the machines, BIW said it turned to 17 other Maine businesses for help providing materials or making specialized parts for the machines.

According to Puritan’s website, the Maine company is one of only two in the world, alongside Copan Diagnostics of northern Italy, manufacturing the swabs needed for coronavirus testing.

To test someone for coronavirus, a long, thin nasopharyngeal swab is inserted through the nose to reach the nasopharynx, a cavity in the upper part of the throat behind the nose, to collect a specimen. But, the swabs used for testing are not just longer versions of the average drugstore cotton swabs.

“Unlike an ordinary cotton swab, it’s actually a highly sophisticated diagnostic tool,” the medical supplies company states on its website. “In fact, it’s regulated, patented and specialized. This also means these swabs aren’t easy to manufacture on the fly.”

The nasal swabs must be long and thin enough to reach behind the nose, and the handle must also be flexible so it can curve to reach the nasopharynx with minimal discomfort. The swabs also can’t be made with cotton or wood, like a typical drugstore swab, because the wrong material can affect the test result, according to Puritan.

The delivery of the first machines comes two weeks after President Donald Trump visited the Guilford factory to praise its workers.

The company, a major employer in the town of 1,500, received $75.5 million through the Defense Production Act to double its production from 20 million to 40 million swabs to help address shortages of supplies needed to test patients for COVID-19.

“Now our nation has turned to you,” Trump said during the visit, “as we massively increase our testing capacity.”

BIW plans to deliver another six machines later this week, according to David Hench, the company spokesman. The medical supplies company should have all 30 machines by mid-July.

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